Running a kick-ass kick-off workshop

You’ve got two hours and room full of anxious and opinionated stakeholders. How do you get the information you need to start your UX project?

I’ll be totally honest. I really don’t like big meetings. It’s dangerously easy to have two hours of aimless waffle with very little actionable outcome.

In their incredible book ‘rework’, 37 Signals (creators of Basecamp) advise that productive meetings should happen ad-hoc in the workplace. This allows team collaboration to happen at the source of the problem - around a screen, a design, or sketch. This way work actually happens in the meeting.

Why you need a kick-off workshop

This is the model I’d prescribe to in an ideal world; but life is rarely ideal.

Big meetings are unavoidable. Sometimes there is only one opportunity to get everyone together in one place at one time. Your client also needs to feel like sufficient time has been spent understanding their requirements and getting their ideas. These factors make UX kick-off workshops a necessity.

We can’t go into workshops without planning though. There’s no right or wrong way to run a UX workshop, but this is a framework that I’ve found works well for prioritising and capturing requirements. I’d suggest tweaking and adapting the approach so that it works for your unique project and team.

Preparing for the workshop

You’ll need:

  • Your team, with representation from the design, development, project management and any other roles that might contribute to the identification of requirements.
  • The core client team if applicable (this is their product after all).
  • A big room that gives people space to move about and stick things on walls.
  • A lot of different colour post-it notes.
  • Any kind of preliminary research. Market research data, user personas, analytics, usability testing results. Essentially bringing anything that might help to guide the the decision making process.

Running the workshop

Step one - Identify the users

The first phase involves discussing and defining all of the different user types.

For each one, we talk about their main characteristics and pain-points. Then, put it up as a post-it-note on the wall.

These don’t have to be full-on personas. In fact if you already have these it will save a bit of time, and can probably skip this step. At the end, you should have a few different user types stuck up on the wall. If you have more than six, you probably need to do a bit of consolidation.

Step two - Prioritise the users

The next step is to go through our user types and arrange them into priority order, from left to right. This can be informed by the client’s business goals and our research data.

User experience workshop - prioritise your users

Step three - Define the user needs

Starting with the highest priority user, define all of their needs on the site. It needs to be stressed that these the user’s needs - not the features or functionality of the site. - we’ll get to that later. For example, “Keep up to date with the last information” isn’t the same as “The site must have a news section”.

Work your way through each of the user types, putting up a post-it note for each user goal.

Step four - Prioritise the user needs

Just like last time, arrange all of the user requirements from most important to least important. 

User experience workshop - prioritise user needs

Step five - Brainstorm solutions

This is the fun bit.

For each requirement (again, starting with our highest priority) define the ways in which the site could solve that requirement. This could be a piece of content, a feature, an element of the design, or something even non-functional like page load speed.

We start with the highest priority user needs to make sure that if we don’t have time to finish the workshop, we’ve at least addressed the most important user needs.

Use a post-it-note to represent each solution. 

User experience workshop - brainstorm solutions

Step six - Identify the MVP

At this point we should have a good understanding of the user and what they want out of the product. We’ve also identified some different potential ways that we could cater for them in our product.

Because we’ve been continually prioritising throughout the workshop we should be able to draw a line around our ‘minimum viable product’. These are the needs we need to meet in order for the product to function. The other requirements, whilst relevant, could potentially be moved out of scope or to a future phase - budget permitting.

User experience workshop - define the MVP

Step seven (optional) - Sketch the home page

After the previous steps everyone should have a good understanding of the product and how it works. If there’s time left, I like to take advantage of everyone being present to run a little extra activity.

I ask each person to sketch out how they feel the home page should look.

We then go round the room and each person explains what they sketched and why. Just for the record, the home page usually isn’t that important. The realvalue of this excersize is to understand which content and features that different stakeholders feel are a priority, and how they see them working.

This can then go on to informing site structure and navigation. It can also provide some useful ideas when we reach the wireframing stage.

How long should the workshop take?

This whole process should take somewhere between two and three hours, allowing about 30 minutes for each ‘phase’. 

Timings can vary slightly depending on the team. How much research you’re coming into the workshop with will also affect how quickly you can make decisions. For example if you already have user personas, the first phase of defining user types and requirements will be a lot more straightforward.

Additional tips

  • If it helps with timekeeping, set a countdown timer for discussing each need or requirement.
  • Create an ‘icebox’ section of the wall for features or ideas that don’t map to a specific need. We don’t want the stakeholder to feel like their contribution hasn’t been captured, but the purpose of this workshop is to identify features that will help our users. An Icebox lets us put these suggestions to one side and think about them later.
  • If people are difficult to plan in, try inviting different team members in at different phases. For example, a developer may provide more value suggesting functionality to solve a requirement. The client’s senior director may be more concerned with ensuring all user goals are identified, caring less about how they are resolved.
  • Make sure to introduce each phase clearly. Splitting it into these steps really helps keep the conversation focused on a single area.

Remember that this is just one approach, and your workshop agenda should be tailored to the specific nature of the project. Adjust what you need to and make your kick-off meetings awesome!

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Chris Myhill, an incredibly handsome UX designer with over 7 years of experience

Chris Myhill

Chris is a freelance UX designer with over seven years of experience.

He’s worked on loads of different projects, using UX wizardry to help businesses make better products.

Learn more about Chris

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